Despite the growth of industries statewide, Montana’s labor market remains lackluster.

And the nation actually has seen labor force declines, as some Americans stopped their search for work and younger people decided to delay entering the labor force.

One way to combat the job outlook and create high-wage jobs that will attract workers and create opportunities for young Montanans is to create more high-tech and high-tech manufacturing jobs, said Greg Gianforte.

Gianforte was keynote speaker at the 39th annual economic outlook seminar presented by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research and sponsored by NorthWestern Energy. He spoke during the Missoula event Friday, the third stop on a nine-stop statewide tour.

Many attendees raised their hands when Gianforte asked how many parents had children who now live out of state.

It’s no wonder, he said, considering that Montana is ranked 49th in the U.S. for wages, narrowly edging out Mississippi.

“This is the problem,” he said.

When he started software company RightNow Technologies in Bozeman in 1997, he was told it wasn’t possible because of lack of outside capital, workers, bandwidth and air traffic.

“Well, I’m really glad we didn’t listen to them,” he said, adding that the company saw 14 years of continuous revenue growth before Oracle purchased it for

$1.8 billion.

He and his wife reached out to Montana University System alumni and graduates for their workforce, as well as recruiting out of the area, Gianforte said.

He added that the average wage at RightNow is $86,000 a year.

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If there were 25 more RightNows in the state, 15,000 high-paying jobs would be created and more than $120 billion of economic value would be added over 15 years, using a fivefold multiplier.

Education is key to the creation of such jobs, he said, but Montana students have high dropout rates and 71 percent of those who graduate are not proficient in one or more core academic areas.

“Better is possible,” he said.

Programs such as CodeMontana.org, which provides free curriculum for students interested in computer sciences, and ACE Scholarships give students more opportunities, he said.

If kids get interested in computer sciences, then more will enter that course of study in the state’s universities and will be able to fill the gap of needed workers in the field right here in Montana, he said.

Creating high-tech jobs won’t exclude other types of workers in the state, he added, saying that companies need accountants, lawyers and more.

Because of the Internet, geography is no longer a barrier to beginning a business in Montana, and high-tech businesses can raise wages across the state, Gianforte said as he encouraged others to pursue startups and create high-wage jobs.

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Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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